Mahishasura was a mighty asura who could change his form at will to that of a buffalo (mahisha in Sanskrit means buffalo). He terrorized and defeated the devas, and usurped the throne of Indra, the Lord of the devas. The devas led by Brahma approached Vishnu and Shiva and appraised them of the situation.
The actions of Mahishasura caused intense anger in the Trimurtis – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. It is said that the flames of fire that gushed out of the eyes of the Trimurtis formed a mountain, brilliant like a million suns. Out of this mountain, Durga took shape as a goddess more powerful than all the gods.
Captivated by the awe-inspiring Durga, the Trimurtis and the devas bestowed on her their own characteristic weapons.
When Mahishasura saw Goddess Durga, he fell in love with her and sought to marry her. Durga promised to marry him if he defeated her in battle. A terrible combat ensued and continued for nine days. Finally, Durga assumed the terrifying form of Chandika (Kali) and pinned Mahishasura down with her foot, pierced his neck with her spear and cut his head off with her sword.
Navaratri or Durga Puja, a nineday festival celebrated in all parts of India, is a celebration of the slaying of the demon Mahishasura by Durga. In some northern parts of India, Navaratri commemorates the victory of Rama over Ravana. But in both cases, it symbolizes the victory of good over evil.
Chitra Venkatramani, Sunnyvale, CA